BAXTER — Holy moly!
“The Unholy,” a religious horror movie from co-producer Sam Raimi, was released in theaters on Good Friday, April 2, in a savvy marketing move or a form of cinematic counterprogramming.
The Lakes 12 Theatre film stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan who encounters a hearing-impaired girl who, after a supposed visitation from the Virgin Mary, is miraculously cured and cures others.
Morgan plays Gerry Finn, a disgraced journalist and lapsed Catholic whose professional fall from grace for fabricating stories now has him hustling for freelance reporting jobs.
Alice, a deaf girl, is played with naivety, sincerity and wide-eyed innocence by relative newcomer Cricket Brown, who inexplicably seems to hear and speak to the Virgin Mary.
Recognizing a good story when he sees one, Finn befriends Alice, who also is the niece of the Rev. Hagen, the pastor of the local Catholic parish. Finn sees the young girl as his meal ticket.
Finn seeks to revive his career when his reporting from the small New England town goes viral, and the faithful and the media flock to witness Alice’s miracles, like curing a boy’s paralysis.
Finn teams up with Dr. Natalie Gates, a local physician played by Katie Aselton, and the pair form an alliance reminiscent of FBI special agents Mulder and Scully from “The X-Files.”
Hagen, whose emphysema is cured by Alice, objects to all the attention now thrust upon his sheltered niece Alice and fears the world will perhaps treat her as a sideshow curiosity or freak.
Veteran actor William Sadler plays Hagen with hope and trepidation. He tells Finn about Alice’s newfound and divine powers: “When God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door.”
"When God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door."
— Father Hagen, pastor of a Boston-area Catholic parish
It is not too long before the Archdiocese of Boston gets wind of Alice and becomes involved in promoting her accounts of her visits with the Virgin Mary in a public relations push.
“Do you think there could be other forces at play here?” Finn asks at one point in the motion picture by Raimi, who directed the cult horror “Evil Dead” series and the “Spider-Man” trilogy.
“The Unholy” is the feature film adaption of “Shrine,” a 1983 novel by James Herbert exploring themes of religious ecstasy, mass hysteria, demonic possession, faith healing and Catholicism.
“Faith in evil empowers evil,” says Monsignor Delgarde, who is played by Diogo Morgado, a Portuguese actor known for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in the History Channel miniseries “The Bible” and the movie “Son of God,” both produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.
The headstrong Bishop Gyles, however, seeks to exploit the faithful with a planned spectacle involving Alice and her visions. Horror fans will recognize Cary Elwes in the role of the dismissive Gyles and Delgarde’s superior from his role in the torture film franchise “Saw.”
Finn’s investigation into Alice’s seemingly divine healing power and the power of faith by the devout is responsible for the Sony Pictures Entertainment’s tagline “Be careful who you pray to.”
Religious horror films are a subgenre with more laudable movies from decades past, including Mia Farrow’s “Rosemary’s Baby” from 1968, Linda Blair’s “The Exorcist” from 1973 and Gregory Peck’s “The Omen” from 1976, just to name a few.
“The Devil’s Advocate,” a 1997 picture co-starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves, M. Night Shyamalan’s “Devil” from 2010 and “The Witch” by Robert Eggers are more recent entries in the religious horror subgenre and are particular favorites of mine.
“The Unholy,” a PG-13 film, was written for the screen and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, a Greek-American screenwriter, film producer and film director who co-wrote the 2017 live-action musical romantic fantasy film “Beauty and the Beast” starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.